01 June 2016

Etc — May 2016

Stoll Kaffee
Ambling through Borough Market in search of Mexican ingredients a few Saturdays ago, I happened upon Zürich Meets London, a pop-up featuring food and drink from various cafes, restaurants and producers from the Swiss capital. Drawn in my the cool design and choice of two single-origin filter coffees, I stopped by Stoll Kaffee's stand. Stoll have been roasting coffee for 80 years so I figured that they probably knew what they were doing!

I tried the Ethiopian Duromina coffee (#2.70), brewed through the Clever dripper — a rare but delightful brew method, which made the most of the delicate jasmine and bergamot notes in this variety. Unfortunately, Stoll doesn't deliver internationally, but look them up next time you are in Zürich.

Modern Lovers by Emma Straub
Emma Straub’s new novel Modern Lovers is a perfect summer read. It is a story of love and friendship that manages to be grown-up and playful, contemplative and funny. At its centre are three friends — Andrew, Elizabeth and Zoe — who were once in a college band together. The fourth member of Kitty’s Mustache was the vampish, troubled Lydia, who launched a solo career before dying at the tender age of 27, thus ensuring her immortality.

Two decades later, a film is being made about Lydia’s life throwing the formerly settled lives of her three bandmates into disarray. Elizabeth and Andrew are now married — happily, for the most part — and live in Brooklyn, down the street from Zoe, who owns a popular neighbourhood restaurant with her wife Jane. Elizabeth is a successful but ambivalent real estate agent and Andrew drifts between jobs and projects, wealthy and directionless. Each couple has a teenage child — Elizabeth and Andrew’s sensible son Harry is in awe and under the influence of Zoe and Jane’s provocative daughter Ruby, and both struggle with college applications, absurdly wealthy classmates and the desire to be different from their parents. 

As the past and its unwelcome secrets are gradually revealed, the relationships of the adults and their children are knocked off kilter. Several characters share an unfulfilled desire for greatness and glory, as they begin to question whether their ordinary, run-of-the-mill Brooklyn family lives are enough.

In the wrong hands, this family drama could easily turn into sentimental, self-indulgent melodrama, but Straub’s writing is warm and her characters are keenly observed and likeable — even loveable — even at their most frustrating. Musical lyricism dances through the novel but so does food. For Jane and Zoe, food is a passion, and they pour their love into their restaurant, Hyacinth, which, incidentally, is one of the most appealing fictional restaurants I’ve read about for a long time. Brooklyn itself features as a key character in the novel, and the plot-progressing snippets from the local newspaper at the start of each chapter only serve to make you wish you too lived in a Victorian five-bedroom in Ditmas Park and go to dinner parties with these funny, sympathetic kidults. 

Disclaimer: Modern Lovers will be published by Penguin UK—Michael Joseph in June 2016. I received a pre-release copy via NetGalley. All opinions are my own.

The Dairy, Clapham

Taking advantage of an intermittently sunny and somewhat warm Sunday, my friend and I went for brunch at The Dairy a few weeks ago. The restaurant, which specialises in creative, modern British cuisine, looks out onto Clapham Common and when the weather is clement, you can sit at one of the pavement tables.

Although you can book for lunch and dinner, the brunch tables are first-come, first-served. Luckily, we were there early enough to nab a great spot. We both ended up ordering the avocado on toast (£. So far, so standard, but The Dairy mixed up the dish by serving it with brown crab mayonnaise and fennel on delicious sourdough bread. It was a tasty twist on a brunch classic (though I'd definitely recommend ordering it with a poached egg, as we did). The coffee was good, although not amazing, but the people-watching and the ambiance were great.

The Girls by Emma Cline

Emma Cline's The Girls, set in California during the turbulent last months of the 1960s, is a languorous, evocative coming-of-age novel that sweeps you along with its seductive prose. Its heroine is Evie, a privileged, sheltered 14-year-old who is about to be sent off to an expensive boarding school. Her parents have split up and she is seeking attention, finding it lacking in the local boys her age. "So much of desire, at that age, was a wilful act," she explains. "Trying so hard to slur the rough, disappointing edges of boys into the shape of someone we could love."

By contrast, the titular girls she meets one day in a parking lot offer a sense of excitement and of belonging that Evie could scarcely have imagined. Suzanne in particular, several years older, seems endlessly sophisticated and adult to Evie, who soon falls into her thrall. Before long, Evie goes to visit the ranch Suzanne and the others share, overseen by the charismatic, Charles Manson-like leader of their group, Russell. For Evie, though, it is mainly about Suzanne: "I was not used to this kind of unmediated attention. Especially from a girl."

However, what begins as freedom and adventure soon takes a darker turn, as the parties at the ranch get wilder, the drugs get stronger and the violence emerges from the shadows. Evie is soon in way over her head and with her parents occupied with their new relationships, and her old friends having moved on, her future begins to look very troubled. Cline's bold debut is keenly observed, her prose mesmerising and her heroine complex and believable.

Disclaimer: The Girls will be published by Random House UK—Vintage in June 2016. I received a pre-release copy via NetGalley. All opinions are my own.

Hoi Polloi
Tucked away inside the Ace Hotel on Shoreditch High Street (through a florist, because of course). A little bit Scandi, a little bit '70s and very cool, Hoi Polloi is a great place for a weeknight dinner or a weekend brunch. The menu is in the form of a newspaper and is extensive. The cocktail list erred on the side of quirkiness. I ordered the Pendennis (Tanqueray, apricot, peychaud bitters and lime), which was on the small side for £9, but it tasted good.

There are some interesting dishes and a few classics. We all went for the cheeseburger, medium rare (or as rare as the council would allow), with dripping chips (£14.50), which went down a treat. The burger was juicy and pretty medium rare and the chips were all too moreish. The pudding was also a strong performer. I had the chocolate curd with peanut butter ice cream and peanut brittle (£8), a kind of deconstructed Reese's piece. When questioned, the waiter couldn't really explain what chocolate curd was other than that it was somewhere between a mousse and a torte. Either way, it was delicious.

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